Hold on to Your Hat: Adolescence Ends at 27

At one of my birthday lunches, part of the year-long celebration marking my 60th year of life, my friend and I watched as a couple with a young 3-or-4 year old, allowed the child to run around in the aisles and tables as the hard working wait staff balancing trays of hot food, dodged the on-slaught. The parents were oblivious to the child--or just ignoring him--until the manager came to the table and requested that the child be asked to sit still; expressing concern as to his safety as the servers laden with heavy trays might harm him. The couple were not happy with the request and after the manager left their table, loudly complained. Yet they did not make the child sit.  Instead, Dad grabbed the child and with one arm tightly around his waste, tried to eat his own meal, all the while, the child wriggling to escape--no movement to make the child sit or eat his own meal.  The child took some food from Dad's plate and ate with his fingers.  Both parents smiling as obviously son was eating. Standing, not sitting. Using fingers, not a spoon or fork. The small family did leave quite quickly when dad and son had most of the food done. After a few bites, the family left. Later, observing the surprised look on the waitress's face when she returned to an empty table, I do hink the family left without paying for the meal.  But not my monkey nor my circus.

My friend, an Adjunct Professor in Nursing, commented that she was surprised how today's young parents are bad at setting and monitoring boundaries.  I myself remember the struggle to keep children occupied at a restaurant, carrying mass quantities of crayons, coloring books, activity books and papers, items that held the interest for at least 2 minutes.  Today's savvy parent pulls out an I-Pad  or  cell phone, filled with a multitude of apps for the child to  play with, unless, God forbid, the battery dies.

Once when we had both 5 year old and 1 year old at dinner at a fine restaurant, (please note: we went to dinner at 5 PM, not a romantic 8 PM, very cognizant that fine dining and young children don't mix) an elderly couple  at the opposite table watched our table and the table next to us.  My kids were semi-behaving (ok I admit they are not perfect) however they were perfect when you watched the other table with 2 screaming kids, running around the table not sitting.  These two children  even went over to the table where the elderly couple sat, and reached toward their plates! The man finally rose and escorted these children back to their own table.   Although apologetic to the elderly man,  the family quickly left with children's food more on the floor than what they had eaten.  A few minutes later, the elderly couple rose to leave, and stopped at our table and said to my husband and I, "Thank you for controlling your children."  Of course my husband and I are late in life parents. I started at 32, hubby 42.  So my children were raised "Old School."  Just ask them who Lawrence Welk is...  they will tell you.

Back to my lunch. My friend then said something that made me stop short.  "Do you know that studies say Adolescence ends at 27!" Yes. You read correctly,  27!  The study, held in the U.K., noted children are staying at home longer. She also said, the study recognized parents did not establish boundaries and  let the child control the roost. 

 As one who had a child home at one time till the age of 26, I was surprised.  While she was home at age 26, she also had spent 2.5 years in China working on her own before that.  Knowing what today's college graduates are facing in finding employment,  I see the 20 something living at home as more of an economic arrangement--live free or not eat.

Yet the age of 27 really does not surprise me.  With three children comprised of two college graduates and one on the way to a sheepskin, I have seen the helicopter parent in full throttle.  These parents hover over the child, trying to control every situation. I understand wanting to spare the child some of the mistakes and harsh lessons, but not letting them to at least try is sad. It fails the child.   In my day, my parents packed the car with my stuff, drove me to college, unloaded the car, gave me a kiss, and said, "have a good life,"  leaving me surrounded by suitcases, boxes, and trunks ready to unpack. 

Today's children have an entirely different experience.  Colleges  hold orientation over a few days, with separate activities for parents and child,  I suppose to make the cutting of that invisible cord, easier.  At one such occasion for the eldest daughter, as I sat in the financial seminar to learn how to pay for the expensive four--and in most cases they told me-- five year college plan, the mother next to me asked what was on the student agenda while we were attending this seminar.  I looked at the schedule and told her our students were selecting their courses for the first semester.  "Not without me, he does not know what he wants to take yet." She abruptly left. 

As I watched her disappear out the door, the counselor announced the FAFSA requirements information and loan programs. And, Oh yes, this is important, even though you pay for your child's college, make sure you get permission from them on the website to access their grades. Otherwise, the school will not be allowed to show these grades that I was paying thousands of dollars to have my child earn. I determined it was time for me to leave the room.   I went outside and discovered an ice cream social was set up under the trees.  Nice, refreshing ice cream, that I soon was told was for the incoming freshmen only, she could not serve a parent. Making an attempt at a joke about tuition costs, I hope my daughter realized when she had her ice cream, it was the most expensive cone she will ever enjoy.  So, I found a bench, and read a book till my Freshman returned.  When she did appear, she was laughing about this mother who appeared at the Advisory meeting, wanting to select  courses.  I am pretty sure I knew who it was.  

A few months, later, the same Freshman was having roommate problems. I am always leary of 2 girls living together, this was 4.  Unforetunately, the other two were high school buddies and left the other two girls to themselves. As I listened to the problems, my mantra was, "You need to work this out, or talk to the RA. The RA may have suggestions."  It was not until I received a call from my daughter in tears, telling me that roommates mother appeared at the door and pretty much reamed her out. It was time for this parent to take action. I decided to call the Dean of Student Affairs, who said, when she answered my call,  she was wondering when she would hear from me. She was aware of the situation, having met with the RA to try and mediate, and she met with the girls separately.  Plus she had many a phone call from the other parent.  I explained I did not hover over my daughter and was hoping my daughter and her roommate would work it out, but with the mother driving a few hours to meet my daughter and screaming at her, it was time to intervene.  The Dean was shocked at learning the news, and said arrangements would be made to separate the girls immediately.  She then THANKED me for my attempt to let my daughter solve her own problem. To this Dean, it was a refreshing occurence. 

I also believe that it is up to the child to learn how to step up and be heard.  I have one daughter in sports. Another in dance.  Many times when I saw other parents get in the face of the Coach or the Director, demanding more for their child be it time on the playing field or more prominent part on the stage, I would remind them, it is not my place to tell these people their job. However, if my child wanted to make a desire known, they need to talk to the one in charge. Take Charge of Your Own Life. 

Recently, my third child had the sports drama of a parent getting in the coach's face. The result of which was a team meeting and no practice before a critical game.  I shook my head. This is college not high school.  I asked my daughter how she felt about it. Her answer was marvelous, "Mom, I am not going to worry about the parents, I am going to play my game, and work with my team."  

I have always asked my girls to have Plan B--even C-D-E-F-G ready as needed. That is what being an adult is--handling challenges that come your way.  They have the right to learn how to do that.   Even more, It is the parent's responsibility to let them. Parents are not friends. They are disciplinarians, teachers and most important, role models.   A parent sets limits l--sets the boundaries and expectations.   Let the child explore, but assist if they are going to get hurt.  You help them spread their wings, but if they do get too close to the sun, then help.  Don't be a helicopter. Don't hover. If the government considers them adult at 18, it is time the parent should as well.   I would hate to see a world of  27 year olds living in the basement of the childhood home as parents, now ready to enjoy each other again,  discover they still have an adolescent on their hands.  

Oh yes, after that first orientation, when we delivered the other two at college, they were left in the dorm with a roomful of trunks, suitcases and boxes to unpack. With a kiss. of course.